‘One hundred years’
image © 1989 Aline Giordano
text © 2013 Aline Giordano
The so-called groundbreaking typology of suicide devised by Emile Durkheim; I doubt it would have given mother much consolation after my brother killed himself, aged 21. I attempted to read Durkheim’s monograph, ‘Suicide’ then. I had to give it up. It didn’t add up. All of a sudden my brother had become a figure, a percentage and probably even more insulting, a standard deviation and an inference, but to what end?
I grew up in a family with strict rules. I grew up in an environment where numbers were important. Father started as an accountant. He reached the top of his profession, working for one of the ‘big four’ by the time I went to university. Older brother specialised in mathematics. Neither my other brother (the dead one) nor I could engage with sciences the way it was taught at school. I never was able to demonstrate that a square is square and I feel pretty sure that I never will, but you know what? I don’t wish to make sense of my world through polynomials, trinomials and statistics and I don’t want to make sense of my brother’s suicide through systematic categorisation. After brother died I found more comfort reading Portrait of a Young Man’s Drowning than Durkheim’s monograph.
I now feel certain that I shall never completely make sense of the emotions I felt when he died, nor the emotions I feel now when I think of him. Can music, or indeed words, help? Of course they can. This is why I regularly read Ted Hughes’ letter to his son Nicholas on experiencing life to its fullest. I admit: Not all lyricists are such talented wordsmiths as Ted Hughes (not all poets either for that matter), but there are some which rise above the rest. Robert Smith being one of them. And as sad as it sounds, it was my brother’s death that helped me appreciate the song ‘One hundred years’ to the full. I would get lost in the flanging and distorted guitars and Smith would sing it like was:
‘It doesn’t matter if we all die ambition in the back of a black car in a high building there is so much to do coming home time a story on the radio…’ (Smith, 1982)
The darkness and aggression of the song found its way to my wandering and grieving self. I can imagine that some of you will sneer at the naivety of it all. Yes. You may sneer, laugh and denigrate but if feeling the pain makes me vulnerable in the eye of the mocking person or the hounding pack, then so be it. In the meantime, I’ll reminisce…
A few years ago I visited my brother’s grave. I felt awkward. For my mother there is no such awkwardness any longer. I expect there is still immense pain but no longer awkwardness. She knows what to do: she kneels, she prays, she crosses herself, she changes the flowers, she waters the flowers, she tidies up the rose bush. Me, I don’t do the kneeling or praying. I can just about sort out the flowers. Still, I’m supposed to do something, aren’t I? But what? So I knelt and looked pensive. I even found myself talking to my brother, something along these lines:
Hello bro! Hope you’re doing ok wherever you are… In truth, you’re probably nowhere coz you’re dead… I wonder how far decomposed your body is… How long does it take for a body to decompose? Anyway… I’m sorry I could not help you when you were alive… I’m sorry I didn’t want to take you with us to Paris to see Siouxsie and the Banshees on that fateful night. I was worried something might happen to you there… I was worried the night would end up a nightmare if anything happened to you... As it happened, the night ended up a nightmare coz you died… I am so sorry… What else can I tell you?…. By the way, I feel super awkward kneeling by your grave talking to a corpse… or are you soil already?’
I actually enjoyed talking to my dead brother, a bit like the kids talking to their dog about the nasty boy that bullies them at school. It makes things easier for a little while. The story of my brother, in my family, we all know how it ended when we buried him. For me, the story went on beyond that point. I had ‘monologues’ with him: I spoke and asked questions. He did not answer. His choice. Sometimes, on a bad day, he even acquired magic super-hero status: he can avenge injustices. He is super cool and he can fly. Death makes you say and write silly things. But you know what?… whatever it takes, whatever it takes.
Didn’t I tell you? He picked me up from the station and was driving me back to the apartment, then he said: “You know your brother was sick, very sick, well he died last night. He killed himself”. I asked: “How?” “He threw himself from the cliff. He was very sick”. I tried to catch his gaze in the middle mirror but couldn’t catch his eyes. He then mentioned a note that you had written in which you said sorry for what you were about to do. The police were ok with that. ‘Hey! What a f*cking relief’ I said to myself. How right you were all these years! I never understood your rage. I do now.
‘… aching inside me and turn me round just like the old days just like the old days…’ (Smith, 1982)
‘The good stories are right under your nose’ observes Adrian Evans, Director of Panos Pictures. What Evans means is that you don’t need to go to the end of the world to find stories worth telling or images worth shooting. Sometimes the best stories are just around the corner. I agree. My brother’s story is worth telling and his handsomeness well worth capturing in a photograph. I tried that a long time ago. My photograph did not catch well his beautiful features but mother cherishes it for what it is: a photograph of her son and, as she would add: ‘quand il était encore bien’.
‘… just like the old days’ (Smith, 1982)
Smith, R. (1982), One hundred years, Pornography: Fiction Records Ltd